This was routinely burnished by favourable publicity from his press pals, who in turn would join with the good and the great of broadcast media every year at the equally overhyped summer party organised by the increasingly alt-right Spectator magazine, of which Neil remains the chairman. Thus his respectability was confirmed, and maintained.
Sadly, as events have shown, this façade has papered over a less munificent reality: Neil, whose BBC interviews were substantially down to thorough planning and preparation from an in-house team (although his ego was a key part of the final presentation), showed himself to be ill-prepared when someone pushed back, as happened when Owen Jones brought up the subject of the Speccy’s far-right flirtations on BBC This Week.
Worse, the idea that the Speccy’s summer parties made the magazine and its unappealing array of writers respectable is bunk: no amount of surface gloss can distract from the regular diet of bigotry, far-right hagiography and flat-out racism served up to readers. But when Neil left the Beeb, none of this was allowed to enter. And then came GB News.
The opening night of Gammon Broadcasting™ News (“Bacon’s News Channel”) had Neil front and centre. He was the elder statesman of news presentation and interviewing. By lending his imprimatur to proceedings, GB News would be respectable and trustworthy - providing viewers had not remained tuned in, to see Dan Wootton front the next show.
Neil lasted a fortnight, beset by technical problems not entirely unconnected to the channel launching prematurely. He was to have returned next Monday. But he won’t be coming, and the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph has spelt out why. "Andrew Neil is expected to quit GB News … insiders now expect him to resign without returning to its airwaves … Mr Neil's return is now thought to be vanishingly unlikely to happen”.
My take is that Neil will haggle for a significant amount of money before agreeing to leave the scene, but once the price is right, he will be off. Why return to a channel which has now been reduced to having former Brexit Party Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage interviewing, er, Christopher Biggins? Or whose latest hire is mercenary hack Isabel Oakeshott? To a channel that takes Ann Widdecombe seriously?
Conversely, why take Andrew Neil seriously? His time at the Murdoch Sunday Times included AIDS denialism, hiring a Holocaust denier (David Irving, no less), and the gratuitous libelling of Carmen Proetta as part of the press assault on Death On The Rock. He used his position at the BBC to push climate change denial, then participated in an on-screen junior shadow ministerial resignation which benefited the Tory Party.
Andrew Neil’s ego demanded one last hurrah, one demonstration that he was still strong. Instead, reality has intervened and what was left of his career now lies in ruins.
GB News might have been a Brillo idea, but it was not a particularly brill one. Sad, really.
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